the debooting of saddam

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    Apr. 10, 2003
    The debooting of Saddam
    By SAUL SINGER

    A few weeks back I wrote that the day the war in Iraq began would be remembered in history as the day the tide turned in the war against terrorism a sort of anti-9/11. Scratch that. April 9, Liberation Day, was that day.

    What a lesson in the power of freedom. After weeks, months, and years of hearing from Punditstan and Armchairiya (as Mark Steyn calls them) that freedom does not matter, and if it did, certainly not to Arabs, we see that it does.
    The smiling faces of real Iraqis as they hug and kiss American soldiers have cut like a knife through the fog of punditry. The legal basis for this war was to disarm Saddam. The moral basis was to deboot him the boot that was on the throat of the Iraqi people.

    It will now become increasingly clear that the dichotomy between the moral and strategic aims of the war was a false one. Debooting Saddam was not just a happy adjunct to disarming him, but the heart of the matter, even from a strategic perspective.

    The reason why is that the threat from Saddam did not come primarily from the weapons he possessed, but from what he represented: the most defiant opponent of the US in the Arab world.

    The expectations game, which had turned against the US so badly for a few weeks, has been turned abruptly on its head. "In Baghdad the coalition forces confront a city apparently determined on resistance," predicted Simon Jenkins in the London Times on March 28. "Hostile cities have ways of making life ghastly for aggressors. They are not like countryside. They seldom capitulate, least of all when their backs are to the wall." The title of Jenkins's essay: "Baghdad will be near impossible to conquer."

    The more Saddam was pumped up as an invincible foe, the greater the impact of Baghdad falling essentially without a fight. "This can't be true," a Ramallah shopkeeper grumbled to The Jerusalem Post's Khaled Abu Toameh. "Where are the suicide bombers? Where are the Fedayeen of Saddam?"
    Many Arabs believed the Arab media, which gave the impression Saddam might actually be winning.
    The real shock and awe, in other words, was not in Baghdad when the first bombs fell, but is happening right now, throughout the Arab world. The silence from the "Arab street" is even more deafening than it was after the fall of the Taliban.

    Now we are hearing about the dangers ahead and about how America will rue the day it conquered an ungovernable country that is now its responsibility. I will, however, venture a prediction.

    The greater danger lies not in overambition, but in not setting our sights as high as this moment warrants.

    We tend to assume that the most that can be expected from the Arab world is contained hostility. But there are already hints that the pendulum could swing much farther in a better direction.

    Iraq's leading Shi'ite cleric, Ayatollah Ali Muhammad Sistani, has already issued what Amir Taheri calls "the first pro-US fatwa in history" ordering the faithful not to resist US forces. The cleric who is the undisputed spiritual leader of Iraq's Shi'ite majority told Taheri, "Our people need freedom more than air."

    Sistani's top assistant, himself the son of another legendary Shi'ite leader, said, "A free Iraq shall be a living monument to our people's friendship with its liberators."

    THIS WAS before Liberation Day. On the day itself, more than 1,000 Baghdadis gathered in a Shi'ite mosque that had been shut down by the regime to hear the first sermon by Sheikh Amer al-Minshidawi in years. He started, according to The New York Times, by saying that the people must "repair everything destroyed by the tyrant Saddam." Then he said something that shows that change does not always come in baby steps, but sometimes in great leaps.

    Quoting an American who called Islam a "religion of terrorism," the cleric said that now Iraq had been liberated by Americans, it was an Iraqi duty to "teach the world that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance and love."

    My hunch is that democracy has a much better chance in Iraq than most people believe. The tribalism that may seem to be democracy's antithesis may actually be the foundation of truly representative and effective government.

    Iraq could be not only the first Arab democracy but the center of pro-Americanism for millions of Shi'ites throughout the Arab world. The assumption that radicalized Iranian Shi'ites would export their poison to Iraq could be backwards; the change in Iraq is more likely to hasten the downfall of the Iranian regime.

    This is not the time for the US to rest on its laurels, as it did after the Cold War. Now is the time to speak out for the Iranian opposition and make life diplomatic and economic hell for the Iranian and Syrian regimes.

    Egypt's Hosni Mubarak talks about the war producing "100 bin Ladens." The opposite is the case; the more vigorously America continues to crush the terror network, the more enemies will become friends.

    To the extent there is danger, it lies in not keeping the momentum up and setting sights too low. The US should not try to patch up its relations with Arab states, as if it had done something it should not have done. The diplomatic bill for this war does not belong in Washington, but in Arab capitals.

    As the Baghdadi cleric said, the burden of proof lies on Islam to show it is peaceful and, by extension, on Arab governments to demonstrate they are truly combating terrorism.

 
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